Can melatonin or valerian cure insomnia?

Q:  I want to try some natural products, either melatonin or valerian or both, to see if they help me sleep better.  I’ve been struggling with insomnia for several years now.  Do these substances work?

A:  Many persons try various non-prescription, over-the-counter (OTC) dietary supplements, herbal remedies, or naturopathic medicines for insomnia.  These substances include melatonin, serotonin, valerian root, and others.

Beware of using such supplements, because their value is questionable and they may have troublesome side effects.  Over-the-counter sleep aids and nutritional supplements are not recommended by the official clinical guidelines from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine because they have not been proven effective nor safe.

There have been mixed results from studies attempting to document the value of adding supplemental serotonin or melatonin (sleep-promoting neurotransmitters), tryptophan (an essential dietary amino acid that promotes a serotonin increase) and various herbal remedies like valerian root for insomnia.

Of the various OTC supplements, melatonin is one often suggested by some healthcare professionals to help counter insomnia, depending on the situation.  Although the pineal gland produces this substance naturally in the brain, supplemental melatonin is sometimes suggested to help people recover from jet lag, and to help regulate the circadian rhythm, particularly for those with blindness, who lack the ability to use light for this purpose.

Of the various herbs, valerian root (Valeriana officinalis) is one often suggested.  This substance has been used for centuries to help promote sleep, and is thought by some to also help counter anxiety.  Extract of valerian root is often taken in capsule form.

Tart cherry juice (specifically the juice of the Montmorency cherry) is yet another OTC product sometimes suggested.  Drinking the juice twice a day for at least two weeks is thought to help improve sleep by supplementing both melatonin and tryptophan.

Although these OTC substances have not been proven safe or effective, their temporary use under the supervision of a healthcare professional may potentially be of some benefit as an alternative to a prescription sleeping pill, especially when an underlying medical or psychiatric issue is disrupting sleep.

If you are interested in trying an OTC product, we suggest consulting with your doctor about the specifics of your situation.  Be sure to ask your doctor about dosage, timing, side effects, and possible contraindications with any other prescription drugs you may be taking.

Also be aware that OTC supplements and herbs are not regulated as drugs by the government, so there could be wide variations in purity and potency.  If you do try them, we suggest buying established brands from reputable sources.

Our philosophy is taking pills or supplements of any kind do not get to the true roots of the problem.  After all, OTC supplements and herbal products, like prescription drugs, are likely treating only the symptom — sleep — and not the true underlying basis of insomnia.

To permanently sleep better, you need to address the behavioral and cognitive roots of primary insomnia, the real underlying causes that interfere with good sleep.  In addition, taking a pill or supplement every day for sleep could potentially lead to an unhealthy reliance or psychological dependence.

Moreover, we know of no artificial herb, pharmaceutical, or sleep aid of any kind that is superior to your own body’s natural ability to refresh and rejuvenate itself on its own.  All supplements and sleeping pills potentially have side-effects of some kind, and they can be severe.

Simply put, we suggest there is nothing better or more refreshing than a good natural night’s sleep you achieve on your own.

Instead of pills, herbs, or artificial sleep aids, we suggest the all natural, nondrug methods in the STS program – the cognitive and behavioral actions you take will proactively enable you to naturally enhance and strengthen your inherent ability to sleep.  In so doing, you will address the true root causes that interfere with sleep, not just the symptom.

Explore posts in the same categories: Health, Insomnia, sleep

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